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The Book of Evidence
on 7 July 2015
Freddie Montgomery is a man who likes to take chances, and when he discovers an acquaintance of his has a secret, he blackmails him into handing over a large amount of hush money. Freddie and his wife, Daphne, who are temporarily domiciled on a Mediterranean island, have a high old time spending the cash, but it is not until practically all of the money has been squandered that Freddie discovers it has been borrowed from a wily loan shark, who is expecting Freddie to pay him back, and quickly. Freddie leaves his wife (and their small son) and returns home to the family 'pile' in Ireland, only to discover that his widowed mother has sold all the family heirlooms, including the paintings, in order to keep her head above water. Furious that his mother has sold what Freddie considers his birthright, he storms out of the house to pay a visit to Helmut Behrens, an old friend of the family, who Freddie suspects has bought the Montgomery family's paintings for less than they were worth. When he spots a valuable Dutch master in the Behren's drawing room, Freddie concocts a hare-brained scheme to return and steal the painting - which surprisingly he manages to accomplish, but then something goes very wrong and Freddie finds himself on remand for murder (not a spoiler, we know right from the outset that Freddie is in prison facing a murder charge).
First-person narrated by the very self-absorbed (and probably psychopathic) Freddie, John Banville's 1989 Booker Prize shortlisted 'The Book of Evidence' pulls the reader into Freddie's world, and what a very unsettling place Freddie's world is. But Freddie, we soon discover, is a rather unreliable narrator, so how much of his sorry tale can we believe? And is Freddie just a very selfish and self-absorbed character with very little empathy for anyone else, or does he have some kind of personality or psychotic disorder? And if so, should he be held wholly responsible for his crimes? Smoothly and beautifully written, with some marvellous descriptions of situation and setting, this was an involving and (despite the rather gruesome murder scene) an entertaining read, but once I had turned the last page I have to say that I was rather glad to leave Freddie behind me.